The ‘Texas Two-Step’

Posted on Friday, 15th April 2011 @ 06:53 PM by Text Size A | A | A

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Ah, yes, the ‘Texas Miracle.’  It was the platform from which former President George W. Bush, while campaigning for the presidency in 1999 and 2000, exploited as he endeavored to convince everybody that he would be the ‘Education President.’  The ‘Miracle’ was also the basis for the development and enactment of the oft-disparaged No Child Left Behind legislation that Bush had so fervently championed.

Rod The Reformer

Bush hailed the astounding statistical and emotional turnaround that had transpired at the Houston Independent School District, which was at the time under the guidance of Superintendent Dr. Rod Paige.  Paige was a career educator who had, while serving as the Dean of Education at Texas Southern University in the 1980s inaugurated a facility that was devoted issues concerning instruction and administration in urban school districts.  Before taking the helm at Houston ISD in 1994, he served as an officer on its Board of Education.  Through a series of initiatives that pointedly demanded elevated numerical accountability of its principals and teachers, overall test scores accelerated and dropout rates decreased dramatically between the years 1994 and 2000.  It is because of these remarkable achievements that his peers, over a span of several years, bestowed upon him an array of accolades, including being named the National Superintendent of the Year in 2001.

Paine, a long-time college football coach in his younger years who earned his doctoral degree in physical education from Indiana University, had become the envy of the public education world.  Dropout rates among all demographics, particularly Latino students, who make up over 60% of the total student population, had reached alarmingly low levels.  Over the course of seven years in which Paige was the Superintendent, the dropout rates had not only declined but had, in at least one building, been reduced to nothing.

Too Good To Be True?

Unfortunately, those numbers just seemed to good to be true, which is why an outspoken Houston ISD assistant principal decided to take his concerns and ample documentation to the CBS affiliate in Houston, casting a spotlight on figures that controverted repeated claims made by district executives, specifically Paige.  Sharpstown High School Assistant Principal – and Business Manager – Robert Kimball has contended he was eventually demoted for his actions, being relegated to that of an elementary principal with a variety of menial duties.  filed a whistle-blower suit against the district when it was determined that the school board was not going to be supportive of his accusations.

It was well after Paige was nominated and confirmed as the United States Secretary of Education for Bush in 2001 that Kimball’s allegations gained significant traction.  By 2003, the Texas Education Agency had pored over records of approximately 5,500 students who had left the district during the 2000-2001 school year, and determined that more than half of these students’ records had incorrect or missing information.  Sharpstown was not the only school that had its enrollment information scrutinized; at least 15 additional schools’ data was also analyzed.  For a district that routinely bragged about its stunningly low 1.5 percent dropout rate, the ensuing judgment that the rate was actually somewhere between 25 and 50 percent made a lot of people look really bad.

However, those same people did not go down without a fight.  As previously mentioned, the school board did not side with Kimball, going so far as to accuse him of grandstanding and being an opportunist.  Paige continually insisted that the city of Houston itself was a target for censure because it was not considered a bastion of intellectualism and incapable of conceiving and generating such impressive educationally-related figures.  Never mind that such widespread rebuke may have been warranted, inasmuch as the disparity between dropout rates purported by the district and what was later to be established by state regulators.  Furthermore, several district teachers confessed to altering responses on standardized exams in an attempt to raise scores, with the possibility of earning bonus bay for the artificially increased test scores.

It Paid To Cheat

Moreover, ‘rightsizing’ the enrollment figures did have its benefits.  If enough struggling or under-qualified students were not available to take standardized assessments, Therefore, it presented more favorable circumstances in which students would score more acceptably on such tests, producing bonus-generating remuneration for both teachers and administrators.  For a more contemporary version of what is a similar scenario, refer to the recent findings discovered by governments regulators and investigative journalists who have been probing potential improprieties that occurred within the Washington, D.C. schools.

Paige’s term as U.S. Secretary of Education ended with the conclusion of Bush’s first presidential term in 2004.  Not that there is anything unusual about a department head lasting only one administrative term.  But it could be speculated that Bush and his advisers thought it wise to sever official ties with him.  Nonetheless, Paige is apparently still active in education, serving as Chairman of the Chartwell Education Group, an educational consulting service.  According to its website, the organization was initially funded by a financial services firm, known as Liberty Partners.

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